The 86th Annual Academy Awards will air this Sunday on ABC at 7 PM EST/4 PM PST. Ellen DeGeneres hosts the ceremony, which will include performances by U2, Bette Midler, Pink, Idina Menzel, Karen O and Pharrell Williams. Fancy dresses will be worn. Crying will be inevitable. The ceremony will run long.
If your family is anything like mine, the annual Oscar pool is a highly competitive endeavor. The winner gets bragging rights for a year plus the occasional fabulous prize. When people ask me how I came to own the entire DVD boxed set of The Twilight Zone, I proudly tell them that it’s because years ago I correctly predicted the winner of Best Documentary Short.
24 awards will be handed out on Sunday night. Here’s who I think will win them.
Why should you trust me? Well for one I’ve seen all the movies. (Yes, including the shorts.) Two, I’ve watched all the awards shows so far. (Yes, including the BAFTAs and the NAACP Image Awards.) Three, I care about this stuff way too much.
I hope my picks help you win a fabulous prize. And if that fabulous prize happens to be cake, please send me a picture so I can imagine myself eating a slice.
12 Years a Slave
The race is between three films: American Hustle took the Golden Globe for Best Comedy and the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. Enthusiasm for American Hustle was high in January, but has subsided in recent weeks. A movie about an undercover operation in the late ’70s already won Best Picture last year. The film’s comic elements make it seem slight in the face of two weighty dramas about survival against all odds. I don’t think it will win.
Gravity is a stunning achievement and a lock to win most of the technical categories, but 12 Years a Slave is one of the finest films ever made about slavery in America. Perhaps the finest. The movie will be taught in schools decades from now. It makes abstract history horrifyingly personal.
In 2006, another breakthrough drama about a minority group was the front-runner against a film with Sandra Bullock playing an unlikely role. The movies were Brokeback Mountain and Crash. We all know how that ended, but I don’t think history will repeat itself.
Why? The Academy loves voting for complex films about race in America. Since Crash, they’ve heaped praise on Precious, The Help, Django Unchained, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Lincoln. Who, in good conscience, could vote against slavery?
It might be a slim margin, but 12 Years a Slave will take home the night’s top prize.
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Last year Ang Lee took home the Best Director trophy for the CGI-heavy Life of Pi while Argo took home Best Picture. A similar split will happen this year. Cuarón’s combination of incredible technology with old school storytelling is an irresistible mix. He will become the first Hispanic director to win.
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Not enough people saw Bruce Dern in Nebraska and while Leonardo DiCaprio is gaining some late momentum for The Wolf of Wall Street, I just don’t think he’ll win for a movie that so many people hated. That leaves two serious contenders:
Chiwetel Ejiofor is the soul of 12 Years a Slave. The British actor has delivered terrific performances in a wide variety of films: From Kinky Boots to Dirty Pretty Things. Serenity to Love Actually. Any other year he would’ve been a lock, but unfortunately for Mr. Ejiofor, he’s coming in at the tail end of Matthew McConaughey’s rebirth from the romantic comedy ashes.
It began in 2012 when McConaughey tweaked his persona in a fearless performance as an aging male stripper in Magic Mike. The positive upswing continued in the spring of 2013 with a terrific supporting turn in the indie drama Mud. Then came Dallas Buyers Club. The film was slow to start with audiences, but it picked up at just the right time. Having McConaughey doing terrific work every Sunday night on HBO’s True Detective helps too.
It’s McConaughey’s time. A win is inevitable. The bongos are all but forgotten.
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
No contest. The Australian actress will take home her second Oscar for her portrayal of a high society woman descending into madness. The bad press that hounded Blue Jasmine director Woody Allen throughout February won’t transfer to her.
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Jordan Catalano is about to win an Oscar, guys. And deservedly so. Leto gives heart and grit to a difficult role. He’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o have pretty much split this category across the major award shows, but Nyong’o should end up with the Oscar.
Lawrence’s turn in American Hustle is a textbook love it or hate it performance. It’s so big and weird and different from the rest of the movie that it really stands out. But does that sparkle come at the expense of the character’s humanity? It depends on who you talk to. Ultimately, I don’t think voters will want to reward Lawrence with back-to-back Oscars. She’s only 23. She has decades of awards ahead of her.
Lupita Nyong’o is the breakout star of the Oscar season. She’s campaigning like a pro: Eloquent acceptance speeches thanking all the right people, superb fashion choices and a charming talk show demeanor. And then there’s that performance. Nyong’o gives enormous depth and complexity to a role that could’ve been an unfortunate victim and nothing more. The discrepancy between Nyong’o’s cheery public persona and the grimness of the role only shows how great she is.
Nyong’o will edge out Lawrence and take home the Oscar for her first film role.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Spike Jonze – Her
The writer/director will take home his first Oscar for his clever mix of romantic drama and sci-fi allegory.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
While I’m hoping with every bone in my body for Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke to upset with Before Midnight, the only place that would actually happen is in my dreams.
Ridley took a first-person autobiography from over 150 years ago and turned it into a sweeping narrative tale with a dozen full-fledged characters. He should pull off the win.
The film won the important American Cinema Editors Award. The editing gives Captain Phillips urgency, a remarkable feat given that most audience members know the outcome already. It’s a great movie and it should win something. Voters will likely see their best chance to reward it here.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Great Gatsby
While most people thought this Gatsby adaptation was less than great, there’s no denying it was the most sumptuous looking movie released last year. Who wouldn’t want to stop by for the party of a lifetime?
Michael Wilkinson perfectly captured the glitz and grime of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The clothes really made the characters. Let’s hope he thanks Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence for their fearless cleavage in his speech.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Yes I really do think it will happen. The make-up in Dallas Buyers Club isn’t as dramatic and no one wants to vote for The Lone Ranger. This would’ve been a race if American Hustle were in the running, but for some reason it was snubbed.
The whole concept of Bad Grandpa depended upon unsuspecting people believing 42-year-old Johnny Knoxville was an 86-year-old man. Say what you will about the movie, but the transformation is worthy of Oscar gold.
You put on the 3-D glasses. You felt like you were actually in space. End of story.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Is this even a question?
Gravity felt like it took place in space because of the visuals AND the sound.
BEST SOUND MIXING
You could hear every individual bullet in Lone Survivor, but the technical momentum behind Gravity should ensure another win for the space drama.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
This one’s a wild card. Gravity is the obvious choice, but I think there’s a good chance voters will go outside the box for this one. Philomena’s Alexandre Desplat has been nominated six times but has never won and is very respected in the industry. Her’s William Butler and Owen Pallett have indie cred. Butler is a member of acclaimed Canadian rock group Arcade Fire. Pallett is the band’s string arranger.
I think the edge goes to Her. The movie is infused with melancholy music that enhances the film’s overall tone. It could make a surprise triumph over Sandra and Dame Judi.
“Let It Go” from Frozen
Pharrell’s “Happy” is making a late surge on radio and the Billboard charts, but it doesn’t have much to do with Despicable Me 2. Pharrell will have to be content with the bundle of Grammys he won in January.
U2 took the Golden Globe because the Hollywood Foreign Press loves celebrities. But let’s be honest: “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a not so great song from a not so great movie about a great man.
Frozen is the most successful animated musical since the Disney heyday of the early ’90s. “Let It Go” is the film’s best song. It currently sits at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has hundreds and hundreds of covers on YouTube. It’s no contest.
Writer Robert Lopez will become the youngest person to EGOT. He is 39.
The Great Beauty (Italy)
It’s a close race between The Great Beauty from Italy and The Broken Circle Breakdown from Belgium. Circle was a hit at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and it’s a very unique: A non-linear romantic drama with tons of Belgian bluegrass music. But it got a super brief release and The Great Beauty has been an art house hit for months.
The Great Beauty is being called a La Dolce Vita for the modern age. And rightfully so. It should take home the statue, Italy’s first since Life is Beautiful in 1998.
Hayao Miyazaki’s career last film The Wind Rises wasn’t his greatest. That was the only possible upset. The icy Disney juggernaut will dominate.
The Act of Killing
Much like Best Picture, there are three titles that could legitimately take the prize. The Square debuted on Netflix in late January. It pulled an upset at the DGA Awards in early February. But I don’t think enough of the voting block has seen it for it to take the Oscar.
The Act of Killing and 20 Feet from Stardom were the documentaries no one could stop talking about last summer. The two couldn’t be more different. The former is a harrowing look at the modern repercussions of genocide that occurred in Indonesia during the 1960s. The latter is a charming survey of challenges facing background singers hoping to break into the music industry as solo stars.
I think The Act of Killing’s audacious angle on its material will ultimately triumph over the singers, but the margin will be very slim.
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
The Lady in Number 6 follows the incredible life of Alice Herz Sommers, who until her death last Sunday at age 110, was the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor.
Facing Fear follows the equally incredible story of a gay man and the reformed skinhead who attacked him as they work together for the greater social good.
It’s a toss up between the two, although personally I think Prison Terminal is actually the best movie. I’ll give the edge to Alice.
The Academy always stacks this category with movies about children in peril: There are children escaping their abusive father. There are children turned into soldiers and forced to kill. There are children running late for a wedding because their bohemian parents can’t keep time.
Children dying of cancer beat all of those though. Helium is the perfect balance between light and dark. It’s a funny take on a very serious subject. It’s sweet, it’s unique, and it has great special effects.
Get a Horse! played before Frozen and stars Mickey Mouse. There’s a good chance the movie will win on name recognition alone.
But if you actually watch all five shorts, the clear winner is Mr. Hublot. The animation is stunning, it tells a terrific story with no dialogue, and it has an adorable robot dog. Here’s hoping the robot dog triumphs over the more famous mouse.
Who do you think will win big on Sunday night? Post your picks in the comments below.